North Stars – the Reserves are champions!
Posted by nickogs20 on April 20, 2010
United’s Reserves have been crowned champions of the Barclays Premier Reserve League North for the first time in four years after title rivals Liverpool slipped to a late defeat against Everton.
As discussed earlier, a nine point deficit with only three games to play meant that the Anfield club had to beat their city rivals at Prenton Park this evening to keep their incredibly faint hopes of topping the table alive, but a last minute Jose Baxter winner for the Toffees has ensured that with two games still to play, United’s lead atop the division is now unassailable.
This first Northern section title since 2006 is the latest chapter in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s success story as reserve team manager at United, following on from Manchester Senior Cup and Lancashire Senior Cup triumphs as reward for an impressive first two years in the job. The obligatory end of term reviews will look at the title win and the campaign as a whole in greater detail, but the sterling efforts of Solskjaer, his fellow coaches and the numerous players involved in a testing and often trying season can’t be overstated.
The lot of the reserve team manager is never an easy one, but by any standards the challenges Solskjaer has had to deal with this season have been remarkable. As well as the usual raft of loans and international call-ups and the fixture disruption caused by an unusually cold English winter, the injuries that have so affected the first team’s season have both had a serious knock-on effect at reserve level and also manifested themselves in the second string squad (and in the academy group as well for that matter). As a result, Solskjaer has had to make numerous changes from game to game, ultimately using in excess of 40 players, from first-team stalwarts like Edwin van der Sar and Gary Neville down to first year academy scholars like Will Keane and Paul Pogba. To go unbeaten at home all season and to only lose two games thus far in those circumstances is a terrific achievement.
It’s not the United way to rest on laurels when there’s further silverware to chase of course, and the Reserves still have two more opportunities to add to the Old Trafford trophy cabinet. Winning the Northern title means a place in the Barclays Premier Reserve League Playoff against their Southern counterparts Aston Villa, champions of their section for a third straight year. That game will take place at Old Trafford and is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday May 5th, although that is subject to change.
More immediately, the Reds return to Manchester Senior Cup duty this Thursday, their defence of that trophy resting on what is essentially a semi-final against bitter rivals Manchester City at Moss Lane. I say ‘essentially a semi-final’ as technically it is both clubs’ final group game in this year’s competition, but with Bolton have already secured their place in the final with 12 points from their five games, only one place remains and the two Manchester clubs are currently locked together in the table on 10 points each. With MSC rules dictating there must be a winner in every game – even if that has to be decided by penalty shootout – Thursday’s mini-derby is therefore winner takes all, with the victor earning a final berth and home advantage (as group winners) for that final.
There are of course also two final league games to be played, away at Wigan next Monday and away at Burnley three days later. While these are now essentially dead rubbers, they’ll still offer an opportunity for Solskjaer to perhaps rotate his squad and for players to try and earn a place in the team for that Playoff against Villa and a possible MSC final. The title may be in the bag but there’s still a busy few weeks ahead.